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TurningArt Offers a Netflix Queue for Art Buyers

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Taking a page from the business models of Rent-A-Center (RCII) and Netflix (NFLX), a startup company promises to close the gap between art and commerce a little more by offering the indecisive a chance to rent prints of contemporary artworks.

Boston company TurningArt works on the same principle as online home movie rental companies; namely, you choose from an inventory of listed artwork and create a queue of the ones you like. A print of the first item on the list is framed and mailed to you, at which point you either choose to buy the original artwork outright or you exchange the print for the next piece on the list.

As a prospective buyer, you pay monthly for either a standard $10 frame or a large $30; this allows you to rotate prints each month as you decide. The longer you keep the same piece, the closer you come to buying it at a cost of somewhere between $50 and $5,000 -- all in all, considerably less pricey percentage-wise than buying a color TV through Rent-A-Center. As with Netflix, shipping is free.

You can browse for art by region and type. About 65 New York artists, for example, have contributed work to the site. The business has also attracted interest from high-profile investors -- a vice president at CBS Interactive (CBS) recently joined the TurningArt board of directors.

For artists, the company offers the promise of a cut from rental of their images and the opportunity to negotiate directly with subscribers who choose to buy. It also offers a decidedly Owen Mills-sounding vetting process: "We have an internal jury that hand-selects each artist we bring onto the site based on the quality of their work, our current needs in a particular genre and/or style, and their expected appeal to our audience."

Otherwise, the site's message to artists is slightly different than the one to buyers. Artists are told customers rotate the printed images "at one- to three-month intervals" and that "each print gets returned to the company and eventually destroyed after the original is sold or the work is no longer listed on the site." Each piece is listed for only three months. Buyers, on the other hand, are told "Take as long as you like." There's no mention of what happens if you decide to keep something for longer than three months.  

The company has already amassed $1.5 million in funding on the strength of this idea -- unlike with Netflix and Blockbuster, there's no messy option of downloading the works or otherwise getting caught up with copyright concerns.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.